Obituary | Marian Andersen

Tuesday, May 10, 2022 - 4:00pm

Marian Andersen was a woman who humbly accomplished many “firsts” throughout her lifetime. As a member, and often a leader, of numerous national organizations her influence reached far. She was also a philanthropic champion for the University of Nebraska and many other Nebraskan communities.

Andersen, 93, died peacefully at her home in Omaha on April 28. She had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a month earlier.

Andersen, formerly Marian Louise Battey, was born in Lincoln, the daughter of C. Wheaton and Freda Battey. Her father was one of the University of Nebraska Foundation’s first trustees.

In college she was a Phi Beta Kappa honoree and president of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority.

She graduated from the University of Nebraska with a degree in journalism in 1950, and worked at the Lincoln Journal for a short time before becoming a full-time volunteer. 

UNL was also where she met her husband, Harold W. Andersen. When he died in 2015, they had been married for 63 years.

In 1984 she became the first woman to chair the University of Nebraska Foundation Board of Directors, a role her husband assumed in 1991.

In the same year, she was elected to serve as vice chairman for the American Red Cross Board of Governors. She was named chairwoman of the search committee that hired former senator Elizabeth Dole to head the American Red Cross. Previously, Andersen had become the first woman to head the Heartland Chapter of the American Red Cross.

In 1988, she received the Distinguished Nebraskalander Award from the Nebraskaland Foundation. She was a past president of Planned Parenthood, and she and Harold were co-chairs of the Nebraska Shakespeare festival.

The Andersens co-chaired the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Campaign Nebraska that ran from 1993 through 2000. The goal was to raise $250 million, but with their leadership, more than $725 million was raised for UNL.

They were also co-founders of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, a group of contributors who donate a minimum of $10,000 to the annual United Way campaign. As a result of that, Andersen was named the United Way of the Midlands Citizen of the Year in 1994.

She received numerous other honors including: the YWCA Tribute to Women; Outstanding Alumna of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority; Outstanding Sustainer of the Junior League of Omaha; the Perry Branch Award from the NU Foundation; and the Nebraska Builders Award from the NU system in 1987. To honor her involvement in getting the award started, she is an honored member of the Marian Andersen Nebraska Women Journalists Hall of Fame.

Throughout her years of service, Andersen was also a board member for Doane College, the Joslyn Art Museum, the Mid-America Arts Alliance, Nebraska Arts Council, Opera Omaha, the YWCA, the Nebraska State Historical Society and the Public Broadcasting System.

In 2001, Harold and Marian Andersen Hall, home to the College of Journalism and Mass Communications, was named in their honor. The Andersens’ gifts and support have provided many students with opportunities for education and access to state-of-the-art resources. As graduates of University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the Andersens continued to contribute to the university as alumni, donors and role models for community service.

“Marian was an incredible force for good and she will be greatly missed throughout our community,” CoJMC Dean Shari Veil said.

In 2007, the Andersens established the Harold W. and Marian B. Andersen Honors Scholarship Fund, which provides a $12,000 yearly scholarship to a new CoJMC student each year. Current Andersen Scholars Hannah-Kate Kinney, Sam Mueggenberg and Sophia Walsh met Marian on April 22, the week before she died, for the Andersen Scholar Lunch.

“I wouldn’t be at UNL had it not been for her generous scholarship. I’ve been afforded millions of opportunities, and I’ve learned so much. I could not be more grateful to be an Andersen Scholar,” said Kinney. “Getting to meet Marian Andersen was a joy. She showed genuine interest in me and my education.”

Andersen is survived by her son, David, his wife, Leslie, and their three children who live in the Omaha area, as well as her daughter, Nancy, and her three sons who live in Denver.

In March, Andersen was interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald about her life and journey to breaking glass ceilings as a woman who had accomplished many “firsts.” See the story here.

Link to obituary